I often assume a persona when I am gathering myself to go into new situations. I think, today I am going to be Robin Williams in The Dead Poet’s Society, as I enter into the high school classroom and meet the students I will be teaching for a semester. Or Julia Robert’s character in Mona Lisa Smiles. This removes fear or other hindering emotions. I don’t have to worry about what those high schoolers will think of “Ms. Rozell” because I am Mr. Keating.
I don’t have to make decisions based on what “Ms. Rozell” would do, because I am Katherine Watson. The Academy thought she must be correct and gave her an Golden Globe for it; If I am to be her, than I am to be correct as well.
When I boarded the plane to Austria to spend the year dancing around and pretending I could speak German, I wasn’t Josie. I was Indiana Jones and Charlotte Eriksson and Jack Kerouac. Searching for adventure, living like a vagabond, roaming and discovering truth.
When I began running the cancelled LOViT 100 mile race, I wasn’t Josie. I was Diana Nyad setting out on an impossible endurance adventure, looking forward to beating the odds. I was Rich Roll, plant-based athlete, ready to prove to myself I was capable of more. I was stoic Seneca, putting perspective on emotion and chasing the obstacle.
When I got on the plane bound for Jakarta, Indonesia, I wasn’t Josie. I was Tarzan of the Apes, ready to be unleashed from a comfortable life in favor of the jungle of unknowns.
But as I sit in my little Indonesian cave of wonders with a cup of coffee and the peels of an orange next to me, awake and ready to start the day at 4 a.m., ready to meet the middle school Indonesian students I will be teaching for two months, ready to see what my future will hold, I realize that I’m not Mr. Keating. Or Indiana Jones. Or Diana Nyad. Or Tarzan.
And it’s terrifying.
Because Josie feels things. Like failure. Like embarrassment. Like anxiety. And when there is no shield of persona to crouch behind, these things sting. But . . . I also find that I am ready to not be these heroes of mine.
I am beginning to take my own name seriously.
“‘Zeno said this.’ And what have you said?” writes Seneca in Letters from a Stoic. “‘Cleanthes said that’. And what have you said? How much longer are you going to serve under others’ orders? Assume authority yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity . . . no new findings will ever be made if we rest content with the findings of the past."
Perhaps that is what “knowing thyself” is; releasing the soul from the cage of heroes you have put around it in the name of protection.
The men who pioneered the old roads are leaders, not our masters (81).
Without these personas, I feel like an imposter. A fraud. Laughable irony, because that is what I am being when I pretend to be other than Josie. I find myself thinking, when I embody my own name: who am I to be acting thusly? Who am I to say these things that I do? What authority has been given to me that I can speak?
But I am only limited by what I don’t believe I have the right to say.
I sit here, cross-legged, in my Indonesian cave of wonders, mug of coffee to my right and the waft of orange peels dancing around me. Listening to the pounding tropical rain on the clay tiled roof. Waiting. Waiting for the clock to turn 9 a.m. so I can go to the international school. Waiting to see who it is I will be teaching. Waiting to see what my future will be.
This path is unpaved for me. There is no persona to assume. There is no one who is going to do the work for me.
So I must begin to take my own name seriously.